One of the most fascinating meetings I’ve had on this trip was with the Dulwich Centre. Adelaide is where narrative therapy was developed and launched. It’s a practice used in community and counselling work. I was not so familiar with the concept before I began embarking on this research, but I was drawn to the idea of a therapy that looks to understand people’s identities through stories.
I met with Cheryl White and David Denborough, who talked me through the practice and shared examples of it being used effectively with those with dementia. While my area of interest is not in writing as therapy, there is much I can learn from therapeutic practices.
For example, authorship is a key idea for community writing projects and for narrative therapy. Both question who the author is, and who is making the decisions about how a story is represented. NT believes strongly in co-authorship and the role of therapist as collator rather than writer. Any writing or stories told would be acknowledged as mutually produced, with the individual or group and the therapist having equal roles. In a writing project, it might be defined from the outset that the writer would be penning pieces about or from the experience, very clearly from their own perspective.
There’s also the issue of leadership. NT would aim to create principle figures within a group, to be active and lead peers. The therapeutic model aims to provide a framework for those within a community to take a leadership role. Again, in an arts project, the artist might provide and lead on that framework.
The clashes are helpful to recognise, too. Cheryl pointed out the aspects of the projects I’ve developed or praise as good models, and how they would not be appropriate in a therapeutic context. Particularly, the artist making work about an experience, rather than with individuals. That said, I have a great passion for learning and sharing the craft of writing, and experimenting with creating fiction in new forms. I know that has its own worth. Added to this, those living with dementia can’t always consent to therapy, so arts have a purpose there.
This all makes me feel exhilarated. As I think I’ve said before, I think there is a place for all kinds of ways of developing stories and literary projects with others. I’m keen to learn more about narrative therapy, and spot more overlaps and points of difference with community arts practice.